I've had some very interesting e-mails from my informant Glynnis A on her memories of the social scene in Durban in the 1950s and 1960s. Allan Jackson.
On Aug 12, 2010, she wrote:
I read with interest Gerald Buttigieg"s memories of Durban (here, here & here) in the 50's and 60's. He mementions circular skirts but I don't believe girls wore them in the 60s.
Lilac check was popular and I remember running up a dress in a day at my mother's hand-turned Gritzner sewing machine, very low back, stiffened belt and gathered skirt but by 1960 that all changed with Mary Quant and op art (everything was black and white) plastic op art, earrings, clothes and jewellery.
They certainly had beehives but "The shift" had come in by 1961. worn with ruffled emerald green blouses and such like underneath and very short. The mini got shorter and shorter and by 1962 was absolutely micro! Pantyhose had just been invented and we all wore them with our minis, without fail, no matter how hot it was. Bare legs were for shorts and sandals only.
We wore stilettos or white boots with our minis, false eyelashes and yes beehive hairdos. As for Saturday afternoon movies, we all had enormous handbags as was the fashion.
Yes Cookie Look may have been for over 18's but we all went without blinking an eye, from age 15! We girls would go in a gang and spend the time finding out where the parties were, deciding on the best one and then go along with another group of people- one of whom would have a car.
Parties in those days were open house affairs all were welcome and the more people you could squeeze in the better. Records were played full blast mostly Beatles - Hard Days Night got everyone going.
Within a short time you had made new friends and after a few hours, move on the next party, after which, an illicit jump on the trampolines at South Beach or a swim in the sea was quite in order.
Or a trip to Smugglers Inn at the Point Road docks where we would see the action- all terribly exciting! Or a visit to the Cosmo club, another dark and mysterious nightclub.
Durban also had nicer night clubs/supper clubs which were usually part of an hotel, with a small jazz group and a vocalist. These were restaurants with a band and a small dance floor they stayed open until 3am.
Then there were the beach parties, no worry about safety in those days!
On Aug 20, 2010, she wrote:
My memories of Durban go back to The Snake park at the very end of the beachfront and Kenilworth Arcade located a few hundred metres further back - a ramshackle wooden floored building which housed among other things, little machines which when fed with a small coin and the turn of a handle would flip pages showing 1930's ladies getting undressed I can only remember their stockings coming off mind you.
There were bumper cars and distorting mirrors in Kenilworth Arcade too, this was later demolished. Another amusement arcade was "Newtons" arcade, a brick built affair without much about it. It was visited mostly by Vaalies on holiday, but we Durbanites didn't bother too much with it.
Between the Nest /Cuban Hat and the XL cafe was a double storey building where downstairs there was a cafe called The Blue Grotto (The Lido ???. Ed.) which served toasted sandwiches and chips, the floor was probably concrete but it had so much sand trekked in from the beach one could not tell what lay underneath. The walls were painted with turquoise blue enamel paint and there were a few damp and sticky wrought iron tables and chairs for the Vaalies to sit and eat their fare.
The only reason we ever ventured through was to go the Ladies" loos up the back stairs. I heard a story that the old lady who owned it and worked there every single day lived in syle in a very nice home on the Berea.
Up above was a different vibe altogether, there were some serious go karts up there and it was a meeting place for all the young men who were into cars and racing etc..
The beach baths have been covered, just to say that now and again as a treat, we kids - 8 and 9 years of age were dropped off in the morning outside The Baths around 10am and told to be outside again, in front of The Nest to be picked up again at 3 or 4pm.
Those glorious days were spent jumping in and out of the deep end of the beach baths and charging over the road to hire one of the enormous black rubber li-los available on North beach, to lie just beyond the breakers riding over the swells which we called happy day waves, not being strong swimmers its amazing we survived!
I will continue Allan
On Aug 22, 2010, she wrote:
This has certainly got me remembering Durban, following on from my last email;
Next to the Snake Park at the end of the beachfront was a venue called Hop along Cassidy; this fun little place offered pony rides to children around a narrow wooden fenced circuit which looped back on itself several times.
Most times one of the employees would lead the the ponies round the track -not so with my hyper little friend who used to, much to my admiration chase off any assistance and get the pony to charge round at full pelt all on her own.
Passing the Mermaid Lido/Blue Grotto on the side of the walkway one could buy candy floss, plastic fluttery windmills on sticks, hoola hoops, beach balls and brown paper bags with peanuts in their shells.
The Little Top was operational once a year at the height of summer right on the beach near the Mermaid Lido/blue grotto, it was a round tented affair with a small stage. They held talent and beauty competitions, puppet shows for the children and other seaside entertainment, it was very popular with the visitors.
Further along was the XL Cafe where one could buy things like a Perks Pie and gravy for about 10 cents, a very popular choice until a rumour started that someone had found a cockroach in their pie. The XL burnt down I believe due to a fire in the kitchen getting out of hand.
In the 1960's during the December January school holidays the beaches in Durban got so crowded it was difficult to find a place to put down one's towel and lie down and swimming in the sea was just as crowded. Often I remember being tumbled into someone's legs as the surf brought one crashing back down to the shallow water.
Nearing the West Street end of the beach front was a structure which offered "Ghost rides" one would be shuttled around in a little car in the dark where children dressed as nasty ogres would leap out, and strange wailing sounds were played through speakers.
This I think was later the venue for Durban's Bunny club which was opened to much fanfare and interest from the public.
I remember the Macabre well, at the Butterworth Hotel - many English Immigrants started life in Natal from that hotel. The Macabre had black coffins as tables, black benches to sit on and even the walls were painted black. There were a number of bands that played there, apart from the Bats.
Pictures added 3 October 2010.
Scans courtesy Glynnis A: It seems that Glynnis appeared in the photo comics which were so popular in South Africa and she managed to find a copy of one of the Beau Brummel series containing a photograph of the inside of the Macabre night spot, left above. That's supposed to be a coffin on the wall behind the desk and, from the sign, it appears that the band Freedom's Children were appearing there at the time the photograph was taken, which was in about March 1967.
The middle picture show the cover of the comic which Glynnis remembers as having been photographed by Paul Van Niekerk and his wife and being the first of these comics to appear in full colour. The picture on the right showa popular SA band Four Jacks and a Jill who had produced a theme tune for the Mark Condor series of comics. The group was presenting it to Martin Pols, who played the part of Mark Condor.
The Lonsdale Hotel on the Berea was a favourite haunt for the afternoons, it also had live music and a dance floor.
I remember the women taxi drivers, they were big ladies, tough and strong who drove the Eagle taxis.
On Sunday afternoons between 4 and 8pm at the Mickelbust dance studio in Field Street was another live music and dancing meeting place - much disapproved of by my parents.
On Aug 23, 2010, she wrote:
During the time we frequented Cookie Look, cocktail hour always started off with the band playing "Tra La la, triddle dee dee dee, there's peace and good will as I wake up in the morning to the mocking birds trill! It must have been a huge money spinner as it was packed every weekend.
At the far end of the Marine Parade the last building was called Blue Waters, I don't know if it is still there (I left Durban 30 years ago) (It is Ed.) In the late 60's the very first disco opened at the back of the Blue Waters, it was run by Bob Whitfield of LM radio. To get a bit of a vibe going we were allowed free entrance as long as we agreed to dance all night. It was not very successful as it was difficult at first to wean people away from Live bands to recorded music.
On Sundays some teens caught the train to Amanzimtoti to the beach, or very popular for a while was skating on the new Olympic size ice rink behind Durban's North beach. Many lovely ice pantomimes were produced there with large casts and beautiful costumes; the pantos gave Durban's young talented skaters a great opportunity to showcase their skills.
Sometimes the ice was covered over and the venue was used for competitions and live shows. I remember a Jhb band, 'Johnny and the G Men' playing there, Johnny later became known as John Kongos and had a couple a hits in the UK, one being Tokoloshe man
Across the road from the Ice rink was Hoy Park Stadium the home of Hot Rods and stock car racing - both were extremely well supported by all the young men of the motor racing fraternity.
Down at the Umgeni river mouth was the Blue Lagoon - another semi dining- dancing venue, Gene Rockwell and his band played there for some time.